It's hard not to crave Italian food with its warm red sauces and enough garlic to keep vampires at bay. It comes in all forms, from the simplest of pizzas to dishes that will take a good chunk of your paycheck. But it's all worth it. We sought out a sampling of the Valley's higher end Italian restaurants.
Phoenix's fine Italian dining
Pizzas, pastas and more
By Barbara YostSpecial for azcentral.com
November 17, 2009
When a restaurant boasts that it only uses DOP San Marzano tomatoes, a kind of certificate of authenticity of Italian-grown tomatoes, it says this place isn't messing around with inferior ingredients. Chefs also make their own mozzarella and dough every day. But La Piazza is more than pizza. Dive into the Frutti de Mare, a generous plate of shrimp, clams, calamari (squid) and mussels in a spicy white (white wine and olive oil) or red sauce (marinara) served over linguine.
This Italian café is in a strip mall but has an extensive menu that is sure to please all lovers of Italian food. Dine indoors or on the patio. One traditional favorite is the Vitello Oscar, breaded veal medallions topped with fresh crab meat and asparagus, served with Bearnaise sauce. $18.95.
Celebrating 35 years serving fine Italian food in the Valley, Avanti offers an elegant dining experience that has survived the scourge of fast food. Why not let them prepare you a nice Ossobuco Milanese, one of those slow-roasted veal dishes you don't want to take the time to cook at home?
Chef-owner Marcellino Verzino is as Italian as they come, and his food offers the bold flavors of his native country. We recommend the Medallions of Roast Pork Tenderloin, stuffed with prosciutto and watercress and drizzled with a port reduction sauce. That's chow bella. $26.95.
One of the latest fine dining restaurants from long-time Valley restaurant veterans the Mancusos, Bobby's hosts live jazz music every night and a menu that will have you homesick for Italy, whether you've ever been there or not. It's the real thing: lobster ravioli, little pillows of squid ink pasta filled with lobster and cream sauce. $26.
For some Valley residents, Sassi is a considerable drive north. But pack a snack and make the trip, where your destination is an Italian villa with a menu of goodies that will reward your effort. Try to be there at sundown when the view is its own reward. We're thinking about the Grilled Georges Bank Sea Scallops, served with a salad of crispy fennel, oranges and pine nuts ($25).
New York's loss was the Valley's gain when Lorenzo Vivolo bolted from the Big Apple and opened his bistro in north Scottsdale, where he is chef and owner. We trust he knows how to prepare Involtini di Melanzana, a dish of sliced eggplant stuffed with a ricotta filling and bathed in a tomato cream sauce ($20).
Tomaso Maggiore is another longtime purveyor of the Italian culinary arts across the Valley, and Chandler is one of the beneficiaries. Take a stab at the Seafood Spiedini, a skewer of shrimp, scallops, salmon and swordfish accompanied by peppers and onions, drizzled in garlic and herb-infused oil. It's served with pesto mashed potatoes ($22).
Arizona State University students can't live on pizza and burgers alone, so when they want something fancier, there's VinciTorio's. Maybe they'll like the Veal Saltimbocca, a piece of veal scaloppini prepared with fresh sage, prosciutto and mozzarella, then sautéed in a white wine demiglace sauce. For extra fortitude during exam week, it's served over a bed of spinach and hard-boiled eggs ($19.95).
Don't let the setting at Mesa's Falcon Field Airport fool you. This classic Italian eatery has been delivering fine dining in the East Valley for two decades. Arrive by car or plane, then take flight with the Shrimp and Seafood Scampi, a traditional dish of shrimp, crab, salmon, white fish, scallops, mussels, diced tomatoes and scallions over linguine with a garlic sauce.
Located at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch, the fine dining restaurant comes with a free gondola ride for all patrons. If that doesn't say Italy, what does? Well, perhaps the Anatra in Agro-Dolce, a succulent duck breast, with roasted baby vegetables and a sweet and sour roasted duck leg ($26).